Caring for Your Athlete After Concussion

by Chelsea Ortega, DPT, SCS, CSCS

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As a parent or coach, it’s difficult to know the best way to help your athlete recover from concussion. The following are recommendations for how to aid in their recovery and be their strongest advocate.

1. Removal from play must be immediate!

  • If someone sustains a direct or indirect blow and a concussion is suspected, they should be taken out of the activity immediately.
  • This helps prevent second impact syndrome and decreases the risk of prolonged recovery.

2. Ensure that your athlete receives a thorough evaluation by a trained, multi-disciplinary team

  • This allows for your athlete to have a complete, well-rounded evaluation to determine your athlete’s specific deficits for the best treatment possible.
  • Remember that supervised aerobic exercise is essential EARLY ON in the recovery process – reach out to your physical therapist as soon as possible!

3. Encourage good nutrition

  • The brain is active and requires a constant supply of energy. In fact, it uses about 25% of total body glucose and 15% of our oxygen. Good nutrition is essential for brain function and healing.
  • Help your athlete to make nutrient-rich, high-quality food choices, including lean proteins, quality carbohydrates, healthy fats and colorful fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid low-nutrient foods and beverages such as high sugar foods, processed foods, fried foods, high salt foods, caffeine and alcohol.
  • Encourage a meal or snack every 3-4 hours. Often, these athletes won’t feel hungry as they aren’t burning the same amount of energy – but they need nutrients to heal!
  • Add foods or supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, cod, flax seed, chia seeds and walnuts.

4. Encourage good sleep habits

  • Sleep hygiene is essential for concussion recovery, as symptoms often include too little sleep, too much sleep or trouble falling asleep.
  • Help your athlete to set and maintain a regular sleep schedule. Limit naps and screen time. Encourage your athlete to spend time outside and use the bed for sleeping only.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine to help improve sleep patterns.

5. Advocate for academic and work accommodations

  • Athletes are often students or employees before being athletes. They should be fully returned to learning and/or working before they return to sport.
  • Research demonstrates that symptoms can increase when returning to work or school and therefore, introduction to cognitive load (i.e. school or work tasks) should be slow and gradual. This can be achieved through the use of accommodations.
  • There are many tools to help those recovering from concussion to succeed in these environments and standing up for your athlete can help them access these accommodations.

Once your athlete has fully returned to school and is symptom-free, they can then begin their return-to-play protocol under the direction of their medical team. Please reach out for further guidance or to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist. For more on PT for concussion, check out the other parts of this series:

What is a Concussion?

Concussion Treatment: Let’s Get Moving!

Concussion Hot Topics

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